After a long bout with injury and a sullied reputation, Tiger Woods is back to No. 1 in the world. However, the number that matters the most to him is 19. That's how many majors would need to pass Jack Nicklaus' majors record. Despite teeing off on the Tiger-proofed Augusta National course, Woods is threatening The Masters lead on day one.
While golf experts have long believed that the 37-year-old's window was quickly closing as he neared 40, Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel conversation with Nicklaus offers insight into why Woods' odds of breaking his majors record are better than initially forecasted.
It's what else Nicklaus said that, while garnering less attention, suggests that Tiger's window for winning majors – he's been sitting on 14 since that U.S. Open win in '08 – will remain open longer than once believed.
Nicklaus was discussing his last major title. It was his 1986 victory at Augusta. It came at the age of 46 and was his first major since the 1980 PGA Championship. Only Julius Boros (at 48 at the 1968 PGA Championship) won a major at an older age.
As such, 46 has been seen as an unofficial end game for Woods, a time when age will inevitably catch up to him. Since Woods is now 37, speculation is that he has precisely 10 years, or 40 majors, to win five more times. Then he'd be too old.
However, Nicklaus said one of the reasons he stopped winning in his 40s wasn't a deterioration of his skills, but a lack of drive and interest in preparation.
"I don't know whether my skills were all that diminished at 46," Nicklaus said. "I don't think your skills are really diminished. It's more my desire and desire to work hard and prepare. Because I said I'd prepare but I didn't prepare quite as hard as I normally would. So I never thought that, you know, I was deteriorated yet. I don't think I was quite old enough for the wheelchair yet.
"I mean, I was just playing a dozen tournaments a year. I was just going through the motions."
If Kobe Bryant can still play an MVP-caliber level into his 17th NBA season, then it's not farfetched to think that the best golfer of our generation could take advantage of advancements in medicine and physical therapy to extend his prime longer than Nicklaus did. If Woods could contend like Nicklaus did into his 50th birthday, that would put him in contention for another 16 majors.
Nicklaus let up because he had nothing to chase anymore and Arnold Palmer was on the senior tour. Nicklaus' majors record is going to keep Woods hungry, but it would be preferable if he broke the record ASAP. If anything's getting old, it's not Tiger. It's the countdown to 19. Woods' pursuit of Nicklaus has been debated for almost ten years now.
If Woods doesn't go on a winning streak, then by the time he catches Nicklaus, we may have moved on to discussing 14-year-old golf phenom Guan Tianlang's pursuit of Woods' record.